I know I need to brush twice a day, but what about my baby?
Children need healthy baby teeth to chew food, speak properly, and to help their permanent teeth come in correctly. Baby teeth first appear around 6 months and continue until all 20 teeth are in by 3 years old.
Once you see teeth in your baby’s mouth, you need to start brushing because decay and cavities can happen from the minute the pearly whites first show up in that cute, drooly smile.
Enamel is the hard outer layer of the tooth and sheets of bacteria called plaque form on the outside. When baby eats food and drinks formula or breast milk, the bacteria turn the sugars in that food into acid. This acid wears away the enamel and cavities can form.
Brushing teeth removes these sheets of bacteria and helps the enamel stay strong. Use a baby and then child sized tooth brush with fluoride containing toothpaste to brush twice a day. Use a tiny smear of toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice for babies and then for kids 3 and older, the size of a pea.
Brush for 2 minutes (singing a song or listening to a book on tape helps to pass the time). Toothpaste shouldn’t be swallowed, so teach them to spit it out in the sink or a cup (trust me, my kids LOVE the chance to spit and not get in trouble).
What about flossing?
Plaque not removed with brushing eventually hardens into tartar at the gum line and between teeth and once it forms, you need a dentists help to remove it. Flossing removes plaque that brushing misses in those hard to reach areas. Just like us, kids need to floss once they have two teeth that touch.
Floss before or after you brush, just as long as you work it into the routine once a day. There are different flossing tools out there from regular floss, flavored floss, reloadable flossing picks, and single use flossing picks-whatever helps you be consistent, use that!
Get used to it too, you will probably need to floss for them until age 10, when dentists think they are most likely to be thorough enough to do this important job right.
How else can I protect my baby’s teeth?
Decay of the front teeth in babies and kids, called Baby Bottle Tooth Decay, causes cavities that may need to be drilled and filled or cause so much damage the tooth can’t be saved. This is caused by sugars in foods and drinks forming plaque on the teeth.
Putting a baby to bed with a bottle of milk or formula or using a bottle of juice, milk, formula, or soda as a pacifier exposes the new and important baby teeth to lots of sugar. Sharing spoons or cleaning a baby’s pacifier in your own mouth can also share cavity causing bacteria from your mouth to baby’s.
To keep baby’s teeth strong, no bottles to bed, keep your saliva to yourself, give water (but only after 6 months) instead of sugary drinks like juice, soda, or sports drinks and remember to brush and floss.
When should my kids start seeing a dentist?
The American Dental Association wants to see your child in a dentist chair by their first birthday. They won’t be drilling or taking x-rays but this early visit will help your child be comfortable at the dentist and gives the dentist a chance to look for injury or disease and get you some good information on dental care.
This is also the time to talk about thumb sucking and pacifier use, and any tooth and smile questions you have. Dentists also help your child get enough fluoride, a mineral that helps enamel stronger and resist decay.
Fluoride is in Lemoore tap water, but if you drink bottled or purified water you may not be getting the recommended levels. Your dentist can provide a supplement or apply a fluoride varnish on the teeth
Lt. Gillian Wackowski, D.O., is a Naval Hospital Lemoore Medical Homeport physician. She is a Family Medicine Doctor on Medical Homeport Gold Team and sees patients of all ages.